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Fighting Fate’s Entropic Grasp

Ohhh, no. I am not letting you go that easily.

Those were my thoughts on Thursday afternoon when our realtor called me at the office and dropped a bombshell in my lap. I knew something was up when I asked, by way of a greeting, how he was doing, to which he responded: “Uhhh…it depends.” It turned out that the appraisal on the home that Apple and I had contracted to buy had just come in, and it was for $10,000 less than the selling price.

At first you might not understand the ramifications of this. You might think, “Okay, so?” (Like I did, to be honest.) The problem is that a mortgage lender will not give you a loan for a home at an amount larger than its appraised value. It’s a problem that’s easily rectified if the seller decides that they will reduce their price to match the appraisal. In our case, however, the sellers denied this request, saying that they were already at the “break even” point on the home and that they could not bring any of their own money to the table on the deal. If we still wanted to buy the house, the only available course of action was for us to come up with the $10,000 ourselves and pay it directly to the sellers at closing time.

Naturally, with our resources stretched to the bounds of the safety limits we had established for ourselves, this was a bitter pill to swallow. Ten thousand extra dollars? Where was that going to come from? We had already worked a deal with the sellers whereby they would give us $4,000 toward our closing costs, if for no other reason than the combined closing costs and down payment were going to be a little tough to scrape together. There simply didn’t exist another $10,000 that we could safely spend. Shell-shocked, I had our agent take the only other path available: draw up a contract termination form. I was to sign it and send it back to him, and he’d pass it along to the sellers to sign. Thanks to the contract clause that specifically protects us from failure to appraise, we’d be released from the contract, get all of our earnest money back, and that would be that. Back to square one.

Except that this wasn’t acceptable, somehow. In the back of my mind, I clawed at possible alternatives as I sat at my computer and made a futile attempt to get back to work. It was the perfect home, with almost every feature we’d ever dreamed of having, and an inspection that had revealed no significant flaws. And thanks to the perfect storm of circumstances combined with bad luck, an appraisal abnormality looked like it was going to keep it from us. In today’s economic climate, there are a million and one reasons why I might have expected to be denied a mortgage loan — but “the house you want to buy is too cheap” was assuredly not one of them.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like we were overcomplicating things. Sure, there wasn’t another $10,000 in cash just lying around. But what if we took the existing lump sum of money that we had earmarked for the down payment and closing costs, then just divided it up in a slightly revised manner? The size of the loan we were asking for was $10,000 smaller, as made necessary by the low appraisal. Rather than put down 15% as we had originally intended, what if we put down 10% instead and used the cash we’d save to cover the gap? We’d be putting the same amount of money toward the house, but just giving more of it to the sellers directly instead of the bank.

The lender had already pre-approved me for a 10% down payment with a loan size larger than the one I was requesting, so it seemed like it should work. The end result would be a loan that was just $2,000 larger than our original plan, a difference of only about $12 a month. An acceptable price to pay for the home of our dreams, and the place that we would likely live in for the next 10 years or longer if we have our way.

It took some scrambling around, some frenetic phone calls and some more printing, signing, initialing and scanning, but my official “Plan B” was put into action the next day, with the approval of our mortgage broker. There’s still no telling whether the lending bank will actually approve the loan, or what else they may require of us to get the deal done, but at least we still have a chance. I suspect that this coming week will be the deciding moment: We’ll either be moving onward to our new home, or we’ll be hitting the reset button on this whole gig and starting over.

In the meantime, Apple and I have been keeping busy. Really busy. Now that we’re free of the vacuum-like bubble that we’d lived in back in Florida for so many years, we’ve both had our eyes opened to the world of possibilities that life itself presents when you just get out and live it, rather than hide from it. I’m not talking about fabulous vacations, rock climbing expeditions or bungee-jumping off bridges. Even weekend warrior type projects, like the garage shelving that I helped my friend install for nearly the entirety of yesterday and today, are invigorating and empowering. I really did feel like kind of a stupid boob living in Florida, as though I never really grew up. Now I’m figuring out how to do home improvement stuff, learning how to ride motorcycles, talking tech and learning new things with other gadget-oriented geeks on the cutting edge…the list goes on.

If there’s anything I regret — and this is a function of us staying with friends and not having a space of our own — it’s that Apple and I haven’t had much time to be together, just the two of us, since we got to Texas. Lately, we’ve started to reserve Sunday as our day out, even if it’s just for dinner or a little exploring around town. This evening was no exception; tonight’s adventure was a trip down to Plano for Thai food at one of that town’s many Thai eateries. We’ve finally found the authentic, quaint and extremely tasty Thai restaurant that we always hoped we would, and even better, it’s not one restaurant, it’s three. (The same family owns three different locations.) Tonight, Apple and I shared some of our favorite dishes: tom yum goong, yum woon sen and the most delicious Panang fish (red snapper) that I’ve ever had.

On the way back home, I was kind of basking in the glow of our new reality. For all the hassle of moving and staying in temporary quarters, for all the hardship and uncomfortable change and other stresses of moving, I’m more confident every day that we did the right thing. Not just the right thing, but the damn best thing imaginable. This place is a goldmine. I’ve never thought of myself as a city dweller — and Frisco is decidedly not downtown Dallas — but after talking to my co-workers, most of whom grew up on family farms in rural Kansas, I realize that I’m closer to a city kid than any of them. In a way, the outskirts of the DFW Metroplex in which we now live are similar to the outskirts of the Detroit metro area in which I was born, except where Detroit has been a city on the wane for my entire lifetime, Dallas is a city in the midst of exponential growth and expansion. There’s culture aplenty, shopping and dining of all stripes, beautiful nature parks and jogging trails, and — imagine my surprise! — roads that are an actual pleasure to drive on.

In one way, I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of precious time in the last decade of my life. When I really get down to it, I doubt that I would change anything; Florida’s certainly not a bad place to live, and I learned a lot during my years there — just not much about the life that most people my age take for granted. Now, I feel like it’s time for me to get caught up on the actual business of living, rather than just focusing on work, finances and future planning as we did nearly exclusively in our previous home.

Already, I feel an immense amount of pride in this city…the kind of pride I never felt about living in Florida. In Florida, you mostly feel lucky that you’re there, and largely out of obligation — the weather’s almost always warm, you’re never far from the beach, and it’s where most people only dream of being when their Midwestern homes are under four feet of snow. You feel lucky because you’re supposed to. And yet, while I lived there, I always felt like I was surrounded by people who lacked even the most basic work ethic, common sense or rudimentary skills. I wasn’t proud of Florida. I was just enjoying its spoils.

By contrast, I’m already more proud of Texas than I probably have any right to be, given that I just got here. But you really do get a sense that this state’s denizens — or at least those of the DFW area — have struck the perfect balance between working hard and enjoying life, because there are plenty of ways to do both. The Frisco/Plano area is home to a huge number of corporate headquarters; companies from JC Penney, Capital One and McAfee to Intuit and Pizza Hut are based here. There are also vast amounts of retail combined with the perfect smattering of city parks and green space, and if you drive a short ways north of town, you can explore the rolling hills of truly rural Texas, complete with acres of farm land, clusters of giant wind turbines and motorcycle trails.

I’m hoping and praying that the home loan we’ve applied for goes through, because if it does, we’ll be past the final hurdle and all that will be left is the settling down that we both have been craving. Because with everything that we’ve seen of this town, we want more than anything to call a piece of it our own.

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